Editorial: Reflections on ID-4 changes

Credit the change in voting on the ID-4 (Middlebury Elementary School) budget to a dedicated group of citizens who took up the long-standing issue about a year ago and pressed ahead with a steadfast campaign to bring it to a public vote.
Led in part by Middlebury resident Nancy Malcolm, she and others sought to move the annual meeting to near Town Meeting Day (instead of early April) and vote by Australian ballot, instead of a vote from the floor at the annual meeting. The primary reason has been apparent for years: Attendance at the ID-4 meetings has numbered between a handful or two up to two dozen, but rarely more. When 10-20 people are routinely deciding budgets on behalf of 4,600 registered voters, that is a system in which a demographic government has largely failed.
 School boards over the past decade or more could have brought these articles to a vote years earlier, but never did for two reasons: first, the status quo gave the school boards power to craft budgets to their liking and rarely face challenges from the public; second, no group had pressed the issue to the point any board had to respond.
This time was different.
While this school board refused citizens’ request to put the issue on the ballot for a public vote on its own account, it did, nonetheless, say it would be receptive to a petitioned request. When citizens gathered the required number and presented it to the board, even though there was apparently a minor technical shortcoming in the petition, the board had the wisdom and consideration to waive those concerns and put the questions up for a vote.
The resounding voice vote in favor of both issues by the 150 or so present was the result of pent-up frustration the board had failed to recognize. In general, public boards should be sensitive to citizens’ concerns when they hear about them, and respond proactively to address those issues. Forcing the public to go through the petition process is certainly within the board’s right, but when the issues are long-standing and when the public sentiment is so overwhelming, it reflects a tin ear by the board to not be more proactive on the public’s behalf.
It’s a point to make only because the petition process is lengthy, requires a small army of dedicated citizens to educate others about the issues, maintain public interest over the several months of a campaign, and then get those citizens to the annual meeting for a voice vote. It is a process, in other words, that is stacked against public involvement and for the board-driven status quo. The board’s role, in this respect, should be to anticipate and facilitate public sentiment, not present obstacles to those ideas.
That is not to say, however, that this board has conducted its primary duties irresponsibly. On the contrary, the budget as proposed was overwhelmingly endorsed, and past budgets have been more than reasonable. But it’s the tin ear on this issue — and others in the recent past — that should make this board review its mission and question whether its current approach best serves the public.
Some citizens at the ID-4 annual meeting questioned why the school’s voting process was being challenged, but not the vote at Middlebury’s town meeting.
It’s a legitimate question, but mistaken comparison by a matter of scale.
Middlebury’s town meeting generally draws 200-250 residents, not 7 to 25. Surely, more ballots would be cast in an Australian ballot process, but routinely getting a couple of hundred residents together for a full-fledged debate of the issues and to act accordingly on the floor is at the very least a large enough cross-section of the community to be representative of the voters’ will, while still allowing pure democracy to prevail.
As was noted at the meeting, community involvement and democratic votes are the twin goals — and preferable in a perfect world. It’s when the public body fails to attract enough of a sample to be reasonably representative that it’s time to find other ways to attract a wider audience. So far, Middlebury’s town meeting still meets a reasonable standard of representation, whereas the ID-4 turnout has not for years.
Angelo S. Lynn

Share this story:

More News
US Probation Office Uncategorized

US Probation Office Request for Proposals

US Probation Office 2×1.5 062024 RFP

Middlebury American Legion Uncategorized

Middlebury American Legion Annual Meeting

Middlebury American Legion 062024 1×1.5 Annual Meeting

Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Share this story: